What to wear in Thailand?
‘What to wear in Thailand’ is answered with 2 quick questions. What’s appropriate in a modest country? And, what clothes suit Thailand’s hot, humid climate? It’s easy! Use this What to Wear in Thailand guide and the Thai dress code won’t be a problem: Find out exactly what to wear at the beach and pool, in Bangkok, at temples, at night and in Thai beach towns. Plus, get tips for ideal fabrics, the best shoes to wear and how to pack for Thailand perfectly.
Your what-to-wear FAQs, alphabetically:
- Bangkok: What to wear in Bangkok?
- Beach: What to wear on the beach in Thailand?
- Fabric: What fabrics are best for Thailand?
- Night: What to wear in Thailand at night?
- Rainy season: What to wear for rainy season in Thailand?
- Resort: What to wear in Thai resorts and beach towns?
- Sunscreen: What sunscreen to wear in Thailand?
- Temples: What to wear to a Thai temple?
- + Packing for Thailand: Your Thailand Packing List
Thailand’s dress code: What to know?
Bar girls and lady-boys aside, Thailand is a modest country.
Think a PG-13 corner of Utah on a very hot day.
There are no actual rules; Thailand is used to under-dressed foreigners. However, staying ‘more covered than not’ will be appreciated (and you’ll likely enjoy better service). Just choose clothes that hit closer to your knees than anatomy in the opposite direction. Consider this more/less bendy, depending on your destination.
▸ Snorkelling on Samui? Don’t worry about it.
▸ Browsing Bangkok’s malls? You’re in tropical Manhattan.
▸ Hiking with hill tribes? Cover up.
What to wear in Bangkok?
Checking out of a 5-star Bangkok hotel once, one of us (ahem) was wearing a pair of Crocs. After settling the bill, the receptionist, as charming as could be, said her goodbyes:
“You’re a very nice man. But you have such ugly shoes.”
Assuming you’re an upstanding citizen with noble intentions, consider Bangkok the shiny metropolitan city that it is (and dress accordingly). Aside from visiting temples and nice bars or restaurants, casual sight-seeing clothes are the norm. This doesn’t include a bathing suit: wear actual real clothes.
Want to improve diplomatic relations and enjoy better service in Bangkok? Dress 10% nicer than the tourist fray, as follows…
What should women wear in Bangkok?
Rather than baring all your bits, conjure Reese Witherspoon on an August day in Georgia.
What should men wear in Bangkok?
Collared shirts or polos are recommended (instead of T-shirts or – Australia! – singlets) and … apparently not Crocs. Choose loafers or boat shoes over flip-flops or running shoes (really – stand back and watch service levels improve).
What to wear at night in Bangkok?
While the above suggestions are ideal for day-time sightseeing and shopping in Bangkok, you’ll want to note a different dress code for dressier destinations at night – worth noting if you’re headed to a glitzy Bangkok rooftop bar or a nice restaurant.
What to wear in Thai beach towns?
- Sunscreen: What’s the best sunscreen to wear in Thailand? (Favourite non-toxic options)
- Sun hats: How to choose a sun hat to stay sun-safe in Thailand?
TIP! Sun safety? Thailand is mere degrees from the equator and its UV rating is off the charts year-round. Even if you “never burn” at home, respect Thailand’s sun. SPF 30 – bare minimum, and always wear a hat! Rash-guard shirts are recommended if you plan to snorkel and/or burn easily.
To dress properly in Thailand’s beach towns is no great mystery – just a matter of basic observation and respect. Do Thai men go to the supermarket shirtless and barefoot? No. Do Thai women ride scooters in bikinis? Nope. It’s just like at home: beach stuff stays on the beach. Other than that – it’s hot, and you’re on vacation! How to stay as comfortable as possible? It’s all in your fabric choice.
What to wear at the beach?
Bikinis, trunks and typical resort-wear are de facto at the beach and pool on Koh Samui, Phuket and similar beach destinations in Thailand. However, note the Thai modesty difference: Unlike other island destinations, you should cover up with some shorts and a T-shirt (or similar) when you leave the beach or pool (e.g to have lunch at a beach restaurant).
What should women wear at the beach?
Stick with natural fabrics for cover-ups and – generally – fairly modest coverage. Always wear your bikini top. Topless sunbathing is a total taboo. No one’s going to lock you up, but it will make locals nearby very uncomfortable. Thai women (bar girls notwithstanding) don’t really ‘do’ cleavage.
1. A modest(ish) swimsuit
- Swimsuits: High-neck swimsuit, 50s pin-up swimsuit, polka dot ruched swimsuit
- Bikinis: Scalloped shell swimsuit, tank halter bikini, high-waist vintage bikini
Ideally, choose a swimsuit for Thailand that’s on the more modest end of the spectrum. This season’s halter tops and retro-style swimsuits make this very easy to do! Of course, if you’re staying somewhere private like an Airbnb then wear any swimsuit you like – but at a resort pool or on a Thai beach, your bits are best left to the imagination.
2. Beach cover-ups
- Beach cover-ups: white kimono, tropical print romper, crochet beach dress
- Sarongs, etc: tassled cover-up, black sarong, and tankini top
Pop quiz – you’re grabbing a hotel lunch or heading to a beach bar, what do you do? Answer: Grab your cover-up! Any of these beach cover-ups are perfectly suitable for walking along a touristy beach or around your resort in Thailand. However, when you head into the real world (for beach-town shopping or other excursions), real clothes (shorts/t-shirt) are more suitable. The romper (top centre) is ideal as a beach cover-up in Thailand, but a little too skimpy to qualify as day-to-day clothing.
3. Sun protection galore
- Sunscreen (paraben- & cruelty-free): SPF 30 daily sunscreen and SPF 30 coconut lip balm
- Sunglasses: zeroUV cat-eye sunglasses
- Sun-hat: ‘Resting Beach Face’ hat
Guess how far Thailand is from the equator? Not many degrees. An enormous sun-hat and quality sunglasses (100% UVA/UVB blocking) are non-negotiable. Pale people, you don’t need convincing but those of you in the blasé “I-never-burn-I-just-tan” camp … how about you just humour me on this. Meet me at SPF 30 and you, me and your mummy can all be happy.
4. Ready-for-anything prepared
- For your stuff: SPIbelt for your phone, keys, cash, etc.
- For your hair vs humidity: Salt spray
- Just because it’s Thailand: Palm tree pendant
- Sandals: Sanuk Serena sandals, yoga sling sequin sandals and Teva’s universal sandals
What to do with your stuff at the beach?
I was really excited to ‘discover’ SPIbelts (top left) because it finally answered the “what do you do with you stuff” situation when you want to do something at the beach. You don’t want to leave your valuables on your beach towel, nor do you want to drag a bag along. One of these pocket-belts keeps your cash/phone/keys literally on your person at all times – leaving both hands free for beach tennis. I’ve tried one – worn under my shirt in Koh Samui’s hottest month – it works perfectly. If it gets too hot, just adjust it a little looser around your waist. If you want to wear it swimming or kayaking, just tuck your phone inside a FRiEQ waterproof case. First-world problems, solved!
Beach sandals for Thailand
Flip-flops are a perennial favourite, but if you want to come to Thailand with just one pair of shoes – any of these three will be versatile enough to take you ‘wear-ever’ you want to go. Choose the top, leather-style sandals for a dressier trip, the middle, sequined sandals for supreme comfort and Tevas for adventurous Thailand itineraries.
On that note, less is more
What should men wear at the beach?
Guys have it easy: your T-shirts and standard-issue ‘man shorts’ mean your modesty never need be a problem (just put your shirt back on when you leave the beach). In some spots it might be necessary to wear mosquito repellent, too.
What to wear at Thai temples?
TIP! Pay *particular* attention to the dress code for Thai temples as it’s where you’re most likely to cause offence. Most temples with tourist traffic have signs asking visitors to cover up, yet you’ll see many oblivious souls who still manage to miss this final memo.
What’s appropriate clothing for Thai temples?
The basic rule is to cover your shoulders and knees (both sexes), and ideally you’d cover your ankles too. On the bottom, wear longer shorts, capris, pants/trousers or a knee-length-or-longer skirt. On top, choose any shirt that fully covers your shoulders. A T-shirt, blouse or polo is fine, while a tank top is not. However, a pashmina or scarf worn around the shoulders over a tank top is acceptable (or used as a makeshift long skirt), so it’s easy to get ‘temple worthy’ quite quickly.
Shoes for Thai temples?
Closed-toe shoes are more appropriate, whether loafers, flats or canvas TOMs. Don’t wear laced shoes, as they’re taken off when visiting Thai temples. Tying and untying shoe laces? No thanks. A slip-on shoe or dressy sandal is ideal.
What fabric is best in Thailand?
TIP! Note that these rules turn on their heads during Thailand’s rainy season, when you’ll want to choose totally different fabrics to contend with outrageous downpours and humidity. Instead, find out what to wear for rainy season in Thailand.
The climate determines what you should wear in Thailand – a fine line between respecting local culture, and not melting to a puddle. Despite Thailand’s typical temperatures – mid 30s (over 90°F) – and high humidity, your fabric choices can win the game. You’re not coming on vacation to play “sweaty bush pig”, are you?
#1. Linen (or cotton/linen blends)
The thinner the better! This is probably our best tip for your Thailand packing: linen. Whether 100% linen, a linen/cotton blend (or mixture of other natural fibres), we pack nothing but linen. As an extra benefit, linen shirts tend to be cut slightly over-sized (‘boyfriend’ fit for women) – hot days are so much more comfortable when you have breathing room. Light cotton is an easy-to-find alternative (your closet is probably full of it), but try packing at least one linen shirt – our guess is you’ll live in it for your entire trip.
TIP! Pack a travel steamer: Of course, linen does crease but a travel steamer fixes that in 10 seconds flat. We have this dual-voltage travel steamer: it plugs straight into Thai plugs (no adapter needed) – just fill it up in the bathroom sink, let it heat up for a minute and steam any crease to oblivion (it gets addictive). For crinkled linen or just refreshing things for another wear, we use our steamer every day in Thailand.
#2. Rayon + light cotton
While linen is our favourite fabric to wear in Thailand, you’ll expand your clothing options if you also include light-weight rayon and thin cottons (like cotton voile or an eyelet top). Rayon, while not quite as cool as linen, has a great drape for ‘instant dressy’. (It’s not wrinkle-proof, but a quick blast with the travel steamer is an immediate fix).
#3. Wicking and quick-dry fabrics
Wicking and quick-dry fabrics can be ideal if you’re doing ‘adventurous things’ and need your skin covered and protected without any fabric weight to cook you. For wicking fabric, like you’ll often find in polo shirts, bring only the thinner varieties. If you’re in doubt, try our ‘Thailand test’: run a hot shower in your bathroom to create a hot and steamy environment – then try your wickables. Are they going to cooperate in the tropics?
#4. Skin-protecting UPF fabrics
As I mentioned above in the beach section, UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) clothing like rash-guards and sun-shirts can literally save your hide on boat trips and snorkelling excursions in Thailand.
The worst fabric for Thailand?
Two things not to wear: (1) Anything lined with polyester. It will melt and so will you. If you’re packing skirts or dresses, double check that any lining isn’t polyester. If so, leave it behind. In Thailand it’s as good as wearing a Ziplock bag. (2) Jeans. Thais can wear jeans thanks to lifetime of heat-acclimation. You? You’ll combust.
What to wear – Recap
Let’s recap. Generally – go ‘more modest than not’, remember ‘no shoes/no shirt/no service’ (even at the beach) and choose your most lightweight fabrics. Easy! With these tips you can easily enjoy total comfort in Thailand’s culture and climate, no matter what you have planned.
Now that the dress code is no problem, what about the rest of your perfect preparation?
- A to Z? The A-to-Z Thailand packing list
- Carry-on: How to pack your carry-on for Thailand?
- Electronics: What electronics to pack for Thailand?
- Koh Samui: The Koh Samui Guide
- Mosquitoes: How to avoid mosquitoes in Thailand?
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